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Laparoscopy is a type of surgical procedure in which a small incision is made, usually in the navel, through which a viewing tube (laparoscope) is inserted. The viewing tube has a small camera on the eyepiece. This allows the doctor to examine the abdominal and pelvic organs on a video monitor connected to the tube. Other small incisions can be made to insert instruments to perform procedures. Laparoscopy can be done to diagnose conditions or to perform certain types of operations. It is less invasive than regular open abdominal surgery (laparotomy).
Since the late 1980s, laparoscopy has been a popular diagnostic and treatment tool. The technique dates back to 1901, when it was reportedly first used in a gynecologic procedure performed in Russia. In fact, gynecologists were the first to use laparoscopy to diagnose and treat conditions relating to the female reproductive organs: uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Laparoscopy was first used with cancer patients in 1973. In these first cases, the procedure was used to observe and biopsy the liver. Laparoscopy plays a role in the diagnosis, staging, and treatment for a variety of cancers.
As of 2001, the use of laparoscopy to completely remove cancerous growths and surrounding tissues (in place of open surgery) is controversial. The procedure is being studied to determine if it is as effective as open surgery in complex operations. Laparoscopy is also being investigated as a screening tool for ovarian cancer. Laparoscopy is widely used in procedures for non-cancerous conditions that in the past required open surgery, such as removal of the appendix (appendectomy) and gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy).
As a diagnostic procedure, laparoscopy is useful in taking biopsies of abdominal or pelvic growths, as well as lymph nodes. It allows the doctor to examine the abdominal area, including the female organs, appendix, gallbladder, stomach, and the liver. Laparoscopy is used to determine the cause of pelvic pain or gynecological symptoms that cannot be confirmed by a physical exam or ultrasound. For example, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, ectopic pregnancy, or blocked fallopian tubes can be diagnosed using this procedure. It is an important tool when trying to determine the cause of infertility.
While laparoscopic surgery to completely remove cancerous tumors, surrounding tissues, and lymph nodes is used on a limited basis, this type of operation is widely used in noncancerous conditions that once required open surgery. These conditions include:
In contrast to open abdominal surgery, laparoscopy usually involves less pain, less risk, less scarring, and faster recovery. Because laparoscopy is so much less invasive than traditional abdominal surgery, patients can leave the hospital sooner.
Laparoscopy can be used in determining the spread of certain cancers. Sometimes it is combined with ultrasound. Although laparoscopy is a useful staging tool, its use depends on a variety of factors, which are considered for each patient. Types of cancers where laparoscopy may be used to determine the spread of the disease include:
Laparoscopy is sometimes used as part of a palliative cancer treatment. This type of treatment is not a cure, but can often lessen the symptoms. An example is the feeding tube, which cancer patients may have if they are unable to take in food by mouth. The feeding tube provides nutrition directly into the stomach. Inserting the tube with a laparoscopy saves the patient the ordeal of open surgery.
As with any surgery, patients should notify their physician of any medications they are taking (prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal) and of any allergies. Precautions vary due to the several different purposes for laparoscopy. Patients should expect to rest for several days after the procedure, and should set up a comfortable environment in their home (with items such as pain medication, heating pads, feminine products, comfortable clothing, and food readily accessible) prior to surgery.
Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure that is done in the hospital under anesthesia. For diagnosis and biopsy, local anesthesia is sometimes used. In operative procedures, such as abdominal surgery, general anesthesia is required. Before starting the procedure, a catheter is inserted through the urethra to empty the bladder, and the skin of the abdomen is cleaned. After the patient is anesthetized, a hollow needle is inserted into the abdomen in or near the navel, and carbon dioxide gas is pumped through the needle to expand the abdomen. This allows the surgeon a better view of the internal organs. The laparoscope is then inserted through this incision to look at the internal organs. The image from the camera attached to the end of the laparoscope is seen on a video monitor. Sometimes, additional small incisions are made to insert other instruments that are used to lift the tubes and ovaries for examination or to perform surgical procedures.
Patients should not eat or drink after midnight on the night before the procedure.
After the operation, nurses will check the vital signs of patients who had general anesthesia. If there are no complications, the patient may leave the hospital within four to eight hours. (Traditional abdominal surgery requires a hospital stay of several days).
There may be some slight pain or throbbing at the incision sites in the first day or so after the procedure. The gas that is used to expand the abdomen may cause discomfort under the ribs or in the shoulder for a few days. Depending on the reason for the laparoscopy in gynecological procedures, some women may experience some vaginal bleeding. Many patients can return to work within a week of surgery and most are back to work within two weeks.
Laparoscopy is a relatively safe procedure, especially if the physician is experienced in the technique. The risk of complication is approximately 1%.
The procedure carries a slight risk of puncturing a blood vessel or organ, which could cause blood to seep into the abdominal cavity. Puncturing the intestines could allow intestinal contents to seep into the cavity. These are serious complications and major surgery may be required to correct the problem. For operative procedures, there is the possibility that it may become apparent that open surgery is required. Serious complications occur at a rate of only 0.2%.
Rare complications include:
Laparoscopy is generally not used in patients with certain heart or lung conditions, or in those who have some intestinal disorders, such as bowel obstruction.
In diagnostic procedures, normal results would indicate no abnormalities or disease of the organs or lymph nodes that were examined.
A diagnostic laparoscopy may reveal cancerous or benign masses or lesions. Abnormal findings include tumors or cysts, infections (such as pelvic inflammatory disease), cirrhosis, endometriosis, fibroid tumors, or an accumulation of fluid in the cavity. If a doctor is checking for the spread of cancer, the presence of malignant lesions in areas other than the original site of malignancy is an abnormal finding.
For Your Information
Source: Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, Published December, 2002 by the Gale Group